“Is this the room with all the extraterrestrial channelling going on, or are you holding hands because you’re really friendly?”
The Pinehill Crescent Hotel in Kent is host to three very different events: a cross-stitch convention, an experiment in time travel and…the summoning of the Scourge.?
The Doctor, Bernice and Ace find themselves dealing with a dead body that has come back to life, a mystical symbol that possesses its host, and a threat from another universe that is ready for every trick the Doctor’s got up his sleeve.
This time, has the Doctor gone too far?
I hated this when I first heard it (on release) and have refused to listen to it again since, so coming back to it ten years later I have matured, my attitudes and opinions have matured and I can see the good in things where previously I couldn’t.
So I was quite surprised to find that my original analysis was still absolutely correct. It’s dreadful. I know it says “Writer: Paul Cornell” a little bit further up the page but I think he must have been off sick because this is nothing like his usual offerings.
First off, this is set during the run of New Adventures novels at the time when Bernice was travelling with the Doctor and Ace had returned as a battle-hardened warrior. I’ve no problem with them doing this, it’s interesting to set one of these plays between novels rather than TV stories and also interesting to have Bernice in the mix.
The New Adventures had a tendency to take Doctor Who into darker territory, going down the road started in series 25-26 but amplifying it to infinity; a manipulative Doctor, over complicated plots, extreme violence, regular physical and emotional stress for the Doctor, turning Ace into a soldier and making her bitter and resentful….don’t get me wrong there are some absolutely cracking stories in there, but the ones that used all these ingredients were often terrible. And, whilst not quite as long or complicated, most of these ingredients are all present in The Shadow of the Scourge.
The story itself isn’t original but there’s nothing wrong with that; the insect-like aliens can take over human bodies to create a bridge between our dimension and theirs so that an invasion force can attack Earth. Fine, no problems there. But then they over complicate things by adding a lot of techno-babble and a journey through the Doctor’s mind – something which the same writer did far more thoroughly and successfully in his first New Adventures novel Revelations (this appears to be a hobby of his as he went on to adapt his Doctor Who novel Human Nature for the new tv series). Also, it’s set in a present day hotel that’s hosting a science fair, some kind of seance and a cross-stitch convention, it’s as if they’re trying to say something funny about fan conventions which just comes across as a bit silly and childish. And with each of the leads visiting a different group it goes all over the place. Add to that the fact that literally every character is totally forgettable – all I can remember is that most of them were annoying – and all you’ve got left to keep you interested is the three leads.
So let’s address them shall we….
Sylvester McCoy plays this version of the Doctor perfectly well I suppose, there’s nothing wrong with his performance but there’s something that just doesn’t feel right. I don’t think it’s McCoy’s fault, does it feel wrong because everything else is wrong, does it only suit the lengthier, darker novels or is it simply bad writing….I just don’t know but whatever the reason, it leaves me with a feeling of indifference.
Sophie Aldred and Ace are a HUGE problem and two of the main culprits for this whole fiasco. Soldier Ace was a terrible idea that ruined the character and dragged a lot of the novels down, so to have her in one of these plays was not something I was particularly excited by, unfortunately, not only is the character unlikeable and given some rotten dialogue but Sophie Aldred just can’t do it. She can play TV Ace absolutely fine but not this, she’s completely schizophrenic! In every scene she goes from the ‘wicked’ TV Ace to Soldier Ace and back again like a yoyo for no reason. And when playing ‘tough’ she comes across less like a battle-hardened warrior and more like Harry Enfield’s sulky teenager, Kevin. You’d press the fast forward button on the remote if you weren’t too busy holding your head in your hands.
Lisa Bowerman is spot on as Bernice; she’s perfect casting and I defy anyone to claim otherwise. In the books, Bernice was a much better character than either version of Ace and in the weaker novels she was always the highlight. That’s true here as well, and it’s a testament to the actress that she manages to turn some less than impressive dialogue to her advantage and come out of it as the best thing about the whole story. I would have loved to have seen a story with just the Doctor and Bernice.
The voices for the Scourge are painful. It’s so hard to understand what they’re saying at the best of times but when you have entire scenes with just them talking to each other you may as well give up. One of them has an accent and one of them is female but you can barely tell. The episodes are too long, the dialogue, as I’ve already mentioned, is amatuer-ish and often wince-inducing, the music is intrusive and Michael Piccarilli sounds like he’s at a read-through, did no-one tell him they were recording?
To its credit this does a very good job of feeling like one of the New Adventures.
To its detriment, this does a very good job of feeling like one of the New Adventures – one of the really BAD ones. It tries and fails to be amusing, miserably so, it’s too long and feels longer, everyone’s unlikeable including the leads and the only saving grace is Bernice. A fact that makes me wonder whether the story only exists because they wanted to do one with Bernice as a companion. There’s nothing wrong with that but it should have been set in one of the Ace-less periods…and been a different story .
I’d rather watch Timelash. On a loop. 1/5
The Doctor: Sylvester McCoy | Ace: Sophie Aldred | Bernice: Lisa Bowerman
With: Caroline Burns-Cook (Mary Hughes); Nigel Fairs (Gary Williams); Lennox Greaves (Brian Hughes); Holly King (Annie Carpenter); Michael Piccarilli (Michael Pembroke); Peter Trapani (Scourge Leader)
Writer: Paul Cornell | Director: Gary Russell | Music: Alistair Lock | Release Date: October 2000 | Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes | Number of Episodes: 4
Set Between: The Virgin New Adventures novels All-Consuming Fire and Blood Harvest